Greece austerity caused over 550 male suicides, study finds

Study finds link between spending cuts and rise in number of men who killed themselves


Spending cuts in Greece caused a rise in male suicides, according to research that attempts to highlight the health costs of austerity. Echoing official statistics in the UK showing suicide rates are still higher than before the crisis, researchers at the University of Portsmouth have found a correlation between spending cuts and suicides in Greece.

According to the research, every 1 per cent fall in government spending in Greece led to a 0.43 per cent rise in suicides among men – after controlling for other characteristics that might lead to suicide, 551 men killed themselves “solely because of fiscal austerity” between 2009 and 2010, said the paper’s co-author Nikolaos Antonakakis.

“That is almost one person per day. Given that in 2010 there were around two suicides in Greece per day, it appears 50 per cent were due to austerity,” he said.

Antonakakis, a Greek economics lecturer, said he had been prompted to look into a potential link between austerity and suicide rates after media stories and reports of friends of friends dying from suicide.

Although there had been studies into the health effects of negative economic growth, there was a gap when it came specifically to spending cuts and health, he said.

Antonakakis and his co-author, economics professor Alan Collins, said they were surprised at how many suicides appeared linked to austerity and how clear the connection was.

There was also a clear gender divide in the effects of austerity with no obvious rise in female suicide rates, according to the research published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

Men aged 45-89 faced the highest suicide risk in response to austerity because they were most likely to suffer cuts to their salaries and pensions, the research said.

Antonakakis and Collins are considering work on the link between austerity and suicide rates in other countries most affected by the eurozone crisis, such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland.

“These findings have strong implications for policymakers and for health agencies,” said Antonakakis. “We often talk about the fiscal multiplier effect of austerity, such as what it does to GDP. But what is the health multiplier?

We have to consider the health multipliers of any fiscal consolidation and austerity. The fact we find gender specificity and age specificity can help health agencies target their help.”

Political economist David Stuckler and physician-epidemiologist Sanjay Basu pointed to soaring suicide rates, rising HIV infections and even a malaria outbreak in their book The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, published last year. But they argued that such costs were not inevitable and that, in some countries, countermeasures such as active labour market schemes had softened the blow from cuts.

In Greece, however, HIV infection rose by more than 200 per cent from 2011 as prevention budgets were cut and intravenous drug use grew as youth unemployment reached 50 per cent . Greece also experienced its first malaria outbreak in decades after budget cuts to mosquito-spraying, the authors said.

Responding to the research on Greece, a Samaritans spokesman said: “There is a well established link between unemployment and suicide, which tends to increase during economic recession, particularly where it’s not offset by welfare safety nets.

“The fact that disadvantaged people have shorter lives, live with physical and mental health problems and are more likely to die by suicide are inequities that demand a response by services such as Samaritans.

“As the nation’s listening ear, we’d like to remind people struggling to cope that we will continue to be here for anybody who needs someone to listen to them.”